Ping: Pork runs into hundreds of billions [Inquirer]


From the Inquirer: “If you think pork has left, no it hasn’t left,” said the senator, who renounced pork years ago.

Ping: Pork runs into hundreds of billions

By: Christine O. Avendaño – @inquirerdotnet
Philippine Daily Inquirer / 07:00 AM August 17, 2018

Pork-free it is not.

The national budget is still packed with pork—more than P130 billion this year and “hundreds of billions” of pesos for 2019 — contrary to the claim of Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno, according to Sen. Panfilo Lacson.

Lacson said on Thursday that the graft-ridden pork allotments for members of the House of Representatives alone ran into billions of pesos.

“If you think the pork has left, no, it hasn’t left,” said the senator, who renounced pork years ago.

“Pork is a waste of taxpayers’ money,” he stressed.

Budget insertions

Reacting to Lacson’s statement, Malacañang insisted there was no pork in the proposed 2019 national budget.

“Yes, we can guarantee you [the proposed 2019 budget] is pork-free,” said presidential spokesperson Harry Roque.

At the Meet Inquirer Multimedia forum, Lacson admitted his frustration over pork insertions in the national budget.

Asked about the amount of pork — a source of kickbacks for lawmakers — in the proposed P3.76-trillion budget for 2019, he said: “It runs into hundreds of billions of pesos.”

His staff, he said, found in 2017 more than P130 billion in this year’s budget.

During the Senate deliberations on the proposed P3.77-trillion national budget for 2018, for instance, Lacson said he questioned allocations of P10 million to P100 million for road projects, including right-of-way (ROW) payments.

From CDF to PDAF

The government should have settled ROW problems before roads could be built, he said.

Lacson, who first exposed the misuse of the pork barrel system in 2003 in the Senate, said his staff had been seeing these allotments “year in and year out.”

“So there is like an understanding that these items will be placed here. This is where you will get your pork,” he said.

Pork barrel, officially called the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) and before it, the Countrywide Development Fund (CDF), refers to public funds in the General Appropriations Act that finance pet projects of congressmen and senators designed to please voters.

CDF was renamed PDAF as a result of public outrage over the misuse of public funds following an exposé by the Inquirer.

The Supreme Court declared the PDAF and the CDF unconstitutional in November 2013 in the wake of media reports about the P10-billion pork barrel scam in which lawmakers channeled their PDAF allocations to ghost projects in exchange for kickbacks.

The tribunal said legislators could not use lump-sum allocations for projects they would identify after the national budget had been passed.

In the PDAF system, a congressman can get at least P70 million and a senator, at least P200 million.

Diokno said at the Meet Multimedia Inquirer forum on Tuesday that the proposed 2019 national budget did not contain pork in accordance with the Supreme Court ruling.

Project identification

Instead, he said, lawmakers were allowed to identify projects before the budget was approved.

Under this arrangement, the budget secretary said a lawmaker could get as much as P200 million if he could convince departments to justify his request for funding for his district.

“Call it by any other name, but it is not pork barrel,” Diokno said. “Our budget is consistent with the Supreme Court decision.”

This was echoed by Roque, who said there was no pork in the proposed 2019 budget but added he would leave it to Lacson to make the allegation as “he knows what he talks about.”

“The President is unrelenting in his campaign against graft and corruption, and he does not condone pork barrel,” he said.

Smaller commissions

At the forum, Lacson said government officials would always say that there was no pork in the budget.

He said the House was pushing for an obligation-based budget for 2019 because lawmakers would get small “commissions” under the cash-based budget that Malacañang was advocating.

A cash-based budget, according to Lacson, will entail contractors giving “less” commissions to lawmakers because they are required to complete work in one year.

Bigger pork

“If it’s an obligation-based budget, the commission can be advanced because the project can be completed in two year’s time,” he said.

Asked whether pork had to do with commissions for lawmakers, he said this was an “open secret.”

Lacson said the pork for congressmen was now bigger.

From the P70 million per congressman, some now get P1 billion and even P5 billion to P6 billion, he said.

“Of course, before those who are favorites or close to the administration get more [pork]. But now, it runs to billions of pesos per congressman,” he said.

Lacson said some congressmen would confront him if he questioned certain allocations in the budget but would tell them he did not know that these were for them.

It would take a “very strong” President, he said, to deal with the pork barrel system.

“If he goes hammer and tongs against pork barrel, I think the congressmen will have a difficult time,” the senator said.

Lacson said a President would have apprehensions about colliding with Congress over pork because he could be impeached.

“I think the way to deal with this is to deal with them individually, starting from the notoriously corrupt. If you start with them, then they would probably not have allies anymore,” he said.